Ellie-May trial: 'Cage' bed was 'like something that should be in hell'

Reece Hitchcott
Reece Hitchcott

A man who found his lifeless granddaughter in a "cage" bed has told a court it was "something that should be in hell".

Sean Coyle went to his daughter Lauren Coyle's home to find her 19-month-old toddler unresponsive and clammy in the bed at her flat in Preston, Lancashire.

Lauren Coyle

Lauren Coyle

Ellie-May Minshull-Coyle was allegedly bound by her legs and across her chest and forced to sleep face down in the bed converted into a "monstrous cage", a jury at Liverpool Crown Court has heard.

A post-mortem examination found that Ellie-May, described as otherwise "healthy, fit and full of life", died due to "forcible restraint by ligatures in a face down position complicated by hyperthermia".

The bed Ellie-May slept in, a purple Frozen bed based on the Disney children's film, was allegedly turned into a "prison" by the child's stepfather Reece Hitchcott, 20, with the help of their lodger Connor Kirby, 20.

It is alleged Ellie-May's mother, stepfather and lodger, living with the child in the two-bedroom flat at Ward Street in Lostock Hall, all knew what was going on.

All three deny manslaughter on March 23 last year.

A week before Ellie-May's death, her grandfather Mr Coyle told the court he and his wife Louise visited the flat and Hitchcott showed them the bed.

Mr Coyle described it as: "Some kind of thing, something that should be in hell, some kind of frame.

"It had some kind of sheeting over it. There was a gap at one end so you could push it against the wall, so it became a prison for her.

"Well the first thing I thought was, 'What the hell is this?'"

He said Hitchcott told him it was to "assist" the child as she had struggled getting into a sleeping pattern.

Mr Coyle said his wife told the stepfather to take it down as it was dangerous and the child may smother herself.

At around 9.25am on March 23 last year, Mr Coyle visited the flat again after his daughter had messaged him to say she had been "up all night" with Ellie-May.

Mr Coyle told the court he said "where's princess?" as he entered but when he got to the bedroom he saw Hitchcott crouched down beside the bed.

The witness continued: "She did not look right, there was something definitely wrong with her."

He said Ellie-May's eyes rolled back in her head and she looked "clammy" and he ran to ring for an ambulance before commencing mouth-to-mouth and CPR.

The child was pronounced dead later that day in hospital.

She was allegedly tied to the mattress of her bed with tight ligatures across her chest and legs and a duvet placed over her.

Her bed had been pushed against a wall and the open sides enclosed by the slatted sides of a cot lashed together with ligatures and electrical flex and tied to the bed frame, the court heard.

Sheets and bedding were placed over the sides to prevent her seeing outside, no lights were working inside her bedroom and a mattress and sheet were also covering the window, the court was told.

It was alleged her ankles were also tied together and there were also marks on the child's wrists and ankles, suggesting she had been tied to the "cage".

Coyle, of Collins Road, Bamber Bridge, Preston; Hitchcott, of The Fieldings, Fulwood, Preston; and Kirby, of Octavia Court, Huyton, Liverpool, have all pleaded not guilty to manslaughter.

They also each deny a count of causing or allowing the death of the child, one count of child cruelty by "caging" the child in her bed and another count of child cruelty by restraining her in the bed.

The trial was adjourned until Thursday morning.